This piece in the Chronicle needs very little editorializing, but it does need to be read. What we measure, how we measure it, and who gets measured increasingly influences funding. Metrics have teeth, but they are also very political.
Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
Yesterday I wrote about what made me stay with Computing despite the horrible gender imbalance—the personal encouragement I received from teachers who went out of their way to support me. Today I want to broach another piece of why I’m reticent to offer a MOOC: the comments.
I’ve been looking at comments that others have received on their MOOC offerings. No surprises in some ways, they look like a lot of Internet comments. Some are mean, some are stupid, and some are sexist. Of course there are some helpful comments too, but not all.
A few weeks ago a colleague of mine posted this story about a British female academic who argued a position on immigration and was vilified on Twitter as a result of it. The remarks made about her are vile, with levels of misogyny that are depressing. Clearly MOOCs are not the same as arguing a position on immigration, but the same patterns of misogyny exist. It’s rare, but I have received remarks in my teaching evaluations that exhibit this quality. I see Rate a Prof being used in similar ways. Why should MOOCs be exempt?
In discussing this with a colleague he told me about how a video of his technology that featured a woman received a misogynistic comment about her. He removed the comment, but I’m not sure one can moderate comments about MOOCs. I can see that as appearing problematic. Its easy to imagine being accused of moderating comments in such a way that the course reviews were biased towards the positive. The very commentators who likely want to make their vile remarks might be as angry about having their comments are removed. Censorship and freedom of speech are powerful arguments.
I am not willing to expose myself to a situation where any person can use comments to promote attitudes that defy belief that will subsequently end up in one of Google’s data center forever associated with my name. That’s my name, my reputation. And how will other women see those comments? What will they think of the people who take those classes? That people who like Computing hate women. Great.
On a more personal level, and even if the remarks were removed, I still have to live with the idea that someone out there really hates me, hates what I represent, hates what I’ve achieved. Probably more than one person. I already have moments of self-doubt. And then we add in that these people will chose to express that hatred in the most disgusting of ways. It maybe electronically deleted from the record, but it won’t be deleted from my mind. I’ll still have to live with the idea that someone said that about me. I don’t find that a terribly compelling argument for offering myself up to that situation.
I think this warrants more discussion than its receiving, because of course its not the Internet itself, it’s the fact that its a forum for still far too widespread misogyny that exists in the real world. Further, because of the chronic diversity problem that Computing has, it’s hardly surprising that most of the people promoting MOOCs are just the sort of people who don’t experience the Internet as a minority and would be far less likely to be exposed to the mean, misogynistic Internet out there.
My colleagues, perhaps like yours, are discussing MOOCs a lot. I’ve got my own set of reservations about them, but today I want to focus on a question. How diverse are the instructors of MOOCs and what implications does that have for increasing diversity in STEM fields?
Recently my colleague, Mark Guzdial, argued that we should do no harm via a MOOC. His point was simple, that MOOCs could reverse the decades of hard-won efforts to diversify Computer Science. I know from experience, every single time I teach Computer Science classes just how non-diverse Computing remains. I’ve been in the situation of doubling the number of women in the class more than once (especially when I have a female TA). It would be nice to get away from that.
And then I saw my colleague, Tucker Balch’s, demographics from his MOOC. Wow! Highly educated men dominated the people who completed his course. As Mark points out in his analysis of Tucker’s demographics, some of this is likely due to the nature of the course, particularly it being an elective (Computational Finance).
This led me to my question. I wonder what diversity is like on the other side, among the faculty who offer MOOCs? And I offer my story of how I stayed in STEM as an example of why I think it matters. My first Computer Science teacher was a woman. She watched out for me and the other one or two women in the class. I remember that she encouraged me, took time to talk to me beyond the content of the classroom… and so I stayed for two years in a classroom with over 25 14-16 year old boys. (I think this deserves a OBE).
This continued with my second teacher, a man. The class was very small, seven and I was the only woman. The advantage of the small class was that we all got to know each other well, perhaps too well. Some boys of 16-18 well, boosting, talking about sex and women in ways that weren’t exactly flattering… My teacher recognized that this was hard for me, and spent time talking with me about why I should persist despite it. He taught me that developing trust, taking time with an individual student outside of the academic content, could be crucial to inspiring the type of trust that would lead to confidence.
I needed those two teachers. I needed them very much. They are without doubt the reason I am still here. Especially since while I had a couple of faculty at Leeds who really encouraged me (thank you), I didn’t find the part of the discipline that I was passionate about until I reached UC Irvine and my Ph.D.
Given the lack of women in academia, particularly in STEM, I wonder whether the pattern of male dominance repeats itself in who offers the MOOC and I wonder what in turn that does to the student population. Perhaps some would say, offer a MOOC, redress it. But, my route into the field was not about volume encounters, but about those that were very personal. Its only maybe four people who made enough of a difference that I got through, but how can any person be that when they have 50,000 students? Also, how can you achieve these intimacies at a distance, across the network as opposed to face-to-face.
As I mentioned in a previous post recently I read this article about the advantages of being married for male academics versus the disadvantages of being married for women academics. It’s left me with a lot of questions. And being inspired by Female Science Professor‘s question “why don’t more senior women in STEM blog?” I want to continue
In addition to teaching, research, and publishing responsibilities, service constitutes a major part of a professor’s career. … The gender breakdown within a department plays a significant role. Typically, there are more men than women within a discipline, and yet committees seek as much diversity as possible. Women, then, are often asked to do double the amount of service as men, a number that increases for women of color. While service is certainly considered when promoting, publications play a much larger role.
I understand the logic, to have a diversity of representation/voices at the table and so forth. But this is clearly the flip side of it, that women and minorities can get over-serviced. And since time is limited, service will eat into other important activities like research and teaching. This is a serious problem. But I don’t know what to do to change it. In the long-term we do need to recruit and retain women and minorites in STEM, but what do we do in the short-term? There seems to be a conflict here: we want to hear from diverse voices but in so doing we ask them to participate in things that compete for their precious research time.
One short-term piece of advice I would offer to anyone who fits this potential category, is to be very aggressive about saying no. Benchmark your service against a non-minority in your department at your rank. Do no more. (Read studies such as Link et al. “A time allocation study of university faculty” to see broad trends and uneven distributions as a reminder to do no more.)
I’ve been quiet on my blog for a while, I had lost touch with it. It was out of my routine. So it sat quietly.
Recently I read this article about the advantages of being married for male academics versus the disadvantages of being married for women academics. It’s left me with a lot of questions.
Female professors were more likely to have a spouse or partner with a doctoral degree, 54.7 percent to men’s 30.9 percent. Their partners were also more likely to work in academe, 49.6 percent to 36.3 percent.
I wonder whether the same is true in Computing? I was thinking of my department, counting up the numbers of men and women married to other academics. There’s a difference.
A woman is quoted with her theory about why the balance is the way it is, she says
“I have a theory about this,” said Tara Nummedal, an associate professor of history at Brown University. “It seems pretty clear that smart women are going to find men who are engaged, but I just don’t see that it works the other way.”
I have another theory, based on my experience of dating, which is that some men find dating women with doctorates (when they don’t have one) difficult. I recall with some pain a date in which I was subjected to something that felt a bit like being on a quiz show. Yes, I happen to know what the second longest river in the U.S. is the Mississippi since the first longest is the Missouri, but I didn’t need to spend an evening playing this game. And, more crucially, a Ph.D. is not actually about being good at quiz questions. You can guess that the relationship didn’t last long, but this experience was emblematic of the problems I had dating non-Ph.D’s.
She added that a female professor with a stay-at-home spouse is quite rare, but often sees men with stay-at-home wives, allowing them to fully commit themselves to their professions.
I’ve wondered this before also. In one job I had, where I was one of a very small number of women, two of us were single and the other married to an academic. There were some single men in the department, but it was a small fraction of the entire department and a healthy number of my male colleagues, including all the managers, had stay-at-home wives. At that time being married to someone who could take care of all the things that arise in life that require being dealt with during office hours seemed like a huge advantage to me. Some of it was probably that I was often lonely (I had very much made my employment decision because I knew it would advance my career and not my personal life, that was hard, but I think it was crucial for getting to the next steps where I was able to balance both). Years later, I’m not sure whether it’s an advantage or not, because I’ve not ever experienced it. I have no comparison points, nor am I sure that the division of labor that I’ve described is ideal (accurate, enthusiastically embraced)… and I am more aware that my salary is a luxury that these families do not have. But, returning to the point of the article, I think it’s important to pay attention to the last part of the sentence, if there is the possibility for someone to fully commit themselves because that’s what the relationship supports, then yes, I still think that is a type of advantage.
I’ll cover another piece of this article later. That’s enough for now.
I’ve chaired the papers track of a couple conferences now. I could write about the process itself, but instead I want to write about the learning experience of doing this. The first conference I ever co-Papers Chaired was CHI 2006 (with Tom Rodden). I owe Tom a huge thank you because he taught me several useful management strategies that I used during both processes, but also have found useful in my day-to-day activities.
And that is a good reason to volunteer to chair a conference. One of the reasons you’ll hear most often for agreeing to do this kind of service is that it’s good for the community. And you do give your time, as you do as a reviewer, member of the program committee and so forth. Another is because it looks good on the vita. I was told, for example, that serving for CHI meant that the community trusted me with the products of their academic research. I’ll add another one into the mix. For anyone who has ever complained about the way a conference is run, or what happened to their paper, nothing beats seeing what the processes are by which the conference is put together. Actually, I think it should be mandatory that anyone who complains, especially more than once, have to get involved with the organization of the conference.
And today I want to offer another reason, what you learn in doing this. Papers Chairing throws up a myriad of management situations. Each one requires a thoughtful response, many require subtle negotiation to balance needs of the various parties. As a program chair, you are responsible for ensuring that everyone who is giving their time to review etc. gets a fair shake and feels that you support them in their service. I like doing that. I feel its a great way to say thank you. Sometimes it’s harder though, as you have to work something out as best you can. Sometimes there are difficult messages to write, and the practice in getting tone as well as content right is invaluable.
One of the most common things I hear from new PhD students is that they do not want to be in graduate school for six years. There are a variety of reasons for that including explaining it to parents, wanting to earn a decent salary, and just not being able to imagine what one might spend six years doing.
It’s this latter point I want to take up today. What might one spend six years in graduate school doing. Recruiting for the next job is one way to think about it. Many students come into graduate school not really knowing what they want to do. I respect that, many people who embark on a PhD are fairly young, life is going to involve many changes (as an advisor one of the loveliest things I’ve experienced in graduate school is weddings, seeing my students and others find their partner). But that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t give some thought to what you want to do post-graduate school.
Perhaps a different question is what are the options available that I would like to explore when I leave. And this begs a second and far more important question, what will I have to achieve while I am in school if I want to explore those options? Since you are probably only going to do one Ph.D. you might not want to leave these things to chance. And the later in graduate school the more your options have been made, either by what you chose, or by what you didn’t. This applies not just to how you are mentored while in graduate school but what you are being mentored for post-graduate school. Understanding that you are responsible as the student for finding someone who can do both is part of (as the book says) “getting what you came for.” I want to reiterate this point… in addition to finding someone who can mentor you effectively during graduate school, you want to find someone who can effectively mentor you for what you want to do post-graduate school. You can not leave this to chance. Or you can, but then you’ll have effectively made some choices that you may never have realized.
So, how do you know what you want to do? Look at what students who’ve graduated have gone on to do. Can’t decide among those choices, then plan for the one that looks the hardest for you to accomplish. You can course correct later on, but only if you’ve started down a path that allows for it. This is what you should use those six years for, and this is what you, as a graduate student, are responsible for doing. Irrespective, I would say, of what you might get told, you need to develop that internal sense of what you want and decide whether there’s appropriate alignment. You may have to ask to get what you want, or whether that’s even possible. Its crucial to understand that your goals may not align completely with another person’s, but it’s still your responsibility to get what you want (or risk becoming what someone else wants you to be).
Aside: to me this is just a variant of understanding evaluation. Every year in corporations, and regularly in academia, people are evaluated routinely as well as for promotion. Understanding how you are going to be evaluated is essential to understanding what you need to do to be successful. There is not always a clear alignment between what others may want and what you need to succeed. But your odds of succeeding are so much better if you pay attention to the means by which you will be evaluated and you plan to achieve it.
Another day in the office, another student asks me the time honoured question.
Hi Professor <look a bit sheepish> I wasn’t in class the other day, did I miss anything?
This is one of those moments where because they are young, and because I was once young too, I find myself suggesting that they borrow someone else’s class notes and talk to someone who was there. But every now and again I get this urge I have to suppress to respond in one or more the following ways.
- No. You missed nothing. I come here only to entertain myself, frankly you’d be better off talking to your cat to get the answers to your midterm/homework.
- Yes, you missed approximately 1.5 hours in which I lectured, the students discussed, we conducted some group assignments, I provided feedback. Now go and write me an essay about why that might constitute missing something in class.
- Actually I told the people who bothered to show up what questions were going to be on the final. And I made them promise not to tell you.
- Really, seriously?
Recently I received an invitation to join the Georgia Tech Faculty Women’s Club. Ultimately I have decided not to, but the process of thinking the decision though caused me to reflect a lot on the multiple identities that I manage, and on how perhaps Georgia Tech (and other places) might consider women, and in particular, their multiple identities.
When I first got interested in Computer Science, I was the sole woman (girl) in the classes I took. At that time, recruiting any other woman to join me through female focused outreach mattered to me. But in deciding what to do about the faculty wives club, I was forced into a very valuable reflection on what matters to me now.
The history of the Faculty Women’s club is that it started as an association for the wives of GT faculty, although more recently it has replace the wives with women as part of a shift in their recruiting. I think there is an important role for the group in supporting women who do move with their husband’s career (whether they work or not, it is an adjustment to a new place, and the club seems to provide an important outreach, a place to make friendships). Further they do a variety of really important philanthropic work for the campus, raising money to support students and so forth.
But, while I qualify for the GT Faculty Women’s Club, I find that it conflicts with an identity I am trying very hard to manage in an entirely different way. And it’s the part of my identity which is that I am also a Faculty wife, as part of a dual body hire. At work (i.e. Georgia Tech), I believe that it is my responsibility as a dual body to ensure (to the best of my ability) that my colleagues feel that they have hired two individuals.I also want to be treated as an individual professional actor (and I am). There is one time when I want the duality to be considered, and that’s when it could be a conflict of interest (I haven’t encountered any others yet). My challenge with the GTFWC is that its history (and I think to some degree its current membership composition) collides with how I want to manage my workplace identity. I realized that I was not willing to join the club because it would be a workplace-based identification with a piece of my biography that I mostly want to keep out of the workplace!
And its not the only identity conflict I’ve seen. For example, when faculty women’s groups take up issues related to childcare they equate woman with mother. And there are important discussions for parents to have, like about access to resources for child raising as part of employment. But Fathers are parents too, and there are many more of them on campus than their are women.
In other words what I am saying is that “woman” is very broad category, too broad. And, OK, this is not terribly surprising, but why don’t I see an explosion of other sorts of groups promoting categories, like say parenthood? Why don’t we continue to focus more particularly on groups within a single category, like wives?
My institution, Georgia Tech, recently signed up as a participant institution in the Coursera MOOC. This, and other events, have caused a lot of discussion about MOOCS. I won’t rehash them all here, but I will point to Mark and Ian’s blog posts about learning and the assertions made both explicitly and implicitly made.
I was doing my readings about MOOCs while reading another book, an ethnography of the contemporary LA middle class family. It’s a rich portrait of the lives of 32 families specifically, and a reflection on our lives at home. And this led me to another question I have about MOOCS. When, exactly, are we supposed to find the time for the courses?
It’s not just the faculty instructors who have to take on workload to prepare the course (at Georgia Tech this is extra workload not associated with or balanced against our other responsibilities). But, what about those who take the classes. This imagined modern American learner likely has many things to juggle, a job (or multiple jobs), a family, and so forth. As the book makes painfully clear, the average American has very little time left to spend on anything, let alone education. So, how are they supposed to cram in a 6 week course and assignments on top of all the other responsibilities?
I wonder whether the high rates of dropping out can be partially explained by people wanting to learn, feeling that education and self-improvement (which is a big industry marketing its own life-long worth) matter, but then it turns out to be impossible to juggle the programming assignment with their children’s homework and extra-curricula activities. If, as this book claims, Americans are down to meals that last less than 30 minutes and don’t feature all the family, because they are so pressed for time, where does a MOOC come into that equation?